The White House has confirmed the names of 40 world leaders invited to engage in an international climate virtual summit on 22-23 April by US President Joe Biden. Many Pakistanis do not like the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan is on the list – and with good reason.
AccOn behalf of the countries that are the largest polluters, demonstrate clear climatic course, are “highly vulnerable” to climate changes, or “show creative routes to a net zero economy,” according to a statement from the White House.Pakistan’s low pollution levels, along with its internationally recognized tree-planting efforts, according to Islamabad, qualifies it for the summit. (It’s worth noting, though, that Pakistan’s record on carbon pollution isn’t necessarily impressive, as shown by its high deforestation rate, heavy use of dirty fuels, intensive factory production, and low air quality.) But it is Pakistan’s extreme exposure to climate change that most justifies Khan’s presence at the table.Pakistan’s dependency on irrigation, extreme water shortages, heavily populated coastal areas, and exposure to floods and drought illustrate the country’s vulnerability. It is one of the world’s top ten climate-vulnerable countries.
There are huge human factors of this vulnerability, with a population of 220 million – the fifth highest in the world. Invitations to the Biden Summit were made to all the other top 10 population countries.
Then why was it not invited to Pakistan? Some Pakistanis portray it as a calculated mockery – a joke to show Pakistan’s global lack of value, or a tough ball ploy to force Islamabad into helping Washington accomplish its objectives in Afghanistan or counter-terrorism.
This is unlikely.
Right now, US-Pakistan relations are reasonably smooth, and Washington has little interest in antagonizing Islamabad – particularly because the two countries are working together to restart a stalled peace process in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s absence is more likely to be a mistake due to the way Washington views its relationship with Islamabad. For years, US governments have seen Pakistan from a narrow prism framed by hard security issues and Afghanistan.As a result, when Washington invites 40 countries to a climate conference, Pakistan will be excluded. Instead, it’s one of hundreds of countries that meet the attendance requirements but aren’t invited.
Khan could be able to transform this absence into an advantage. To demonstrate his leadership on the subject, he could host his own climate summit. He may also welcome other developed nations, showing his devotion to advocating for the Global South (as he did last year with debt forgiveness).
Climate change underpins cooperation
For Washington, too, there is a taught moment here. The administration of Biden may be unable to expand its lens of relations with Islamabad in ways preferred by Islamabad because of its distrust and separate policy preferences.
But it’s climate change, if there is one rational issue for broader bilateral cooperation.
The Biden administration has described climate change as a core topic of its foreign policy and is likely to understand the profound insecurity of Pakistan’s climate. Many senior officers, like Tsar John Kerry and himself Biden, know Pakistan well. Biden’s government knows Pakistan well.Kerry co-chaired a now-defunct US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue that included clean energy as a key focus while he was Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
In today’s Washington, reviving this debate is a tough sell. A more practical solution is to revive one of its elements, the US-Pakistan Renewable Energy Partnership, to sponsor a new climate-related dialogue involving academics and the private sector, with an emphasis on knowledge sharing and clean-energy technology investments.Furthermore, peace is Washington’s primary concern in Pakistan, and climate change is destabilizing. Climate change causes migration, whether it occurs suddenly as a result of natural disasters or more naturally as a result of droughts and other factors that force people who depend on water to move to towns.
Migration from rural to urban places additional strains on increasingly overburdened cities’ ability to offer public services. The fact that they are unable to have these services increases the likelihood of radicalization. In their new societies, mass movements of marginalized people, especially ethnic and religious minorities, can stoke social tensions and violence.The timing is also on. The US forces will quickly significantly lighten its presence with Afghanistan set to leave by the end of this year. Afghanistan will not be the prism that Washington sees its relations with Islamabad for the first time in 20 years.
The ties between the United States and Pakistan would need a new anchor and climate change is a perfect candidate.
Indeed, the United States-Pakistan climate partnership should depend on Afghanistan itself.
Concentrating on Afghanistan
Washington supports more cordial Afghanistan-Pakistan ties. They have a contentious border and accuse each other of protecting militants who commit cross-border attacks. Pakistan has built momentum over the Taliban by supplying its leadership with safe havens and its strong relations to the Taliban have provided it a central role in the peace process in Afghanistan. (Islamabad has rejected the Taliban leadership for a long time).Better relations between Kabul and Islamabad, Washington claims, would improve Afghanistan’s peace prospects.
Last October, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad called for a new deal between Islamabad and Kabul as “a supplement to internal peace.” He sees it as focused on border defense.
However, Washington should urge its neighbors to discuss the prospect of a transboundary water deal for the Kabul River.The Kabul river basin is home to 25 million inhabitants from nine Afghan provinces and two Pakistani provinces. The Kabul River in Pakistan – a tributary of the Indus, Pakistan’s largest surface water supply – delivers drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower to many million people in Peshawar and its environs.
Climate change is exacerbating Pakistan’s water shortages, so these sources will become much more valuable. Islamabad, on the other hand, is concerned that India’s efforts to construct a dam on the Kabul River, which is a friend of Afghanistan but a foe of Pakistan, will disrupt flow downstream to Pakistan.The facilitation by the United States of a water agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan could tackle a climate-related concern in Pakistan and bring goodwill to ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Islamabad enjoys a modern friendship with Washington – one that relies primarily on commercial and economic collaboration. This could be incorrect in terms of America’s inability to throw hard protection targets.
Climate change can be the happy medium: a shared challenge that is constantly urgently needed, both economically and in security terms, and which every nation or the world cannot continue to neglect.